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This is the cover of a pastoral letter issued by Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador, El Salvador, March 12.

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Slain Jesuit inspires another Salvadoran archbishop and an ode to martyrs
March 21st, 2017
By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON – Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande has been credited with inspiring Blessed Oscar Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, toward a journey of defending the poor that led to his martyrdom in 1980.

But now, Father Grande’s life seems to have inspired the current archbishop of San Salvador, who issued a pastoral letter remembering, praising and apologizing for the long-overdue recognition of Catholics, including U.S. church members, who suffered persecution and death during Central America’s armed conflicts.

“In my capacity as pastor of this church, I have to acknowledge with humility that we have committed many mistakes,” Archbishop Jose Luis EscobarAlas said in the letter issued March 12, the 40th anniversary of Father Grande’s killing. “We have crossed the threshold of the third millennium in the Salvadoran archdiocese without having pronounced a word of recognition for all the men and women who were victims of persecution, torture, repression” and who ultimately died as martyrs, he said.

The archbishop unveiled the letter in the hamlet of El Paisnal, the hometown of Father Grande, a vocal priest who worked with poor rural communities in El Salvador and advocated for better social conditions for them. He died in 1977 after being shot more than a dozen times in an ambush that also resulted in the death of two of his rural parishioners, Manuel Solorzano, a man in his 70s, and Nelson Rutilio Lemus, a teenager of 15 or 16, who were accompanying him to a novena honoring St. Joseph, the patron saint of their hometown. Some say his death led Archbishop Romero, who was a close friend, to take up Father Grande’s devotion to the poor.

The document of more than 200 pages urges Catholics and “people of goodwill” to learn about and follow the example of Father Grande and other slain members of the church, including U.S. Father Stanley Rother, and four U.S. churchwomen who lost their lives while serving the poor of Central America in the 1980s. The Vatican announced March 13 that Father Rother, brutally murdered in 1981 while serving a poor indigenous community in Guatemala during a mission for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, will be beatified in September.

Archbishop Escobar praised Father Rother, who was born on a farm, for his contributions to agriculture in Guatemala and identifying “as one more peasant” with the local community of Santiago Atitlan, where he served. He also praised four U.S. churchwomen – Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and laywoman Jean Donovan – who were beaten, raped and murdered by government soldiers in El Salvador in 1980. Though their work was precarious, they decided to stay with those who were suffering in the country, Archbishop Escobar said.

He said he hoped all of El Salvador’s Catholic martyrs would one day be recognized but focused for now on 24 lives who were “consecrated to God” and who died because of their faith: two bishops, 17 priests, a seminarian about to be ordained, three religious sisters and a lay woman. He also acknowledged that an untold number of Salvadoran “lay martyrs” whose lives are now being documented also perished. More than 70,000 are estimated to have died in the Salvadoran conflict that lasted roughly from the late 1970s until peace accords were signed in 1992.

“I’m sorry that this act of justice and charity for our martyrs wasn’t carried out,” long ago, he said in the letter. Some of it could have been due to practices and spirituality “contrary to the renewal of the Second Vatican Council” and other church teachings from Latin America that focused on the poor and that were not always welcomed by some in the church of El Salvador.

The oligarchy, and “sons and daughters of darkness,” who owned much of the country’s mass media, helped in those days drive a false message, one that promoted slanderous views and defamation of people who were faithful Christians, Archbishop Escobar wrote. Many Salvadorans believed that Catholic men and women who were helping the poor were communists, politically minded enemies of the system, wolves in sheep’s clothing, “guerrilleros,” members dangerous organizations, the archbishop said.

“They were none of this. They were and are martyrs,” Archbishop Escobar wrote.

From March 23, 2017 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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